With the administration having crossed the arbitrary but still significant threshold of 100 days in power, there is no doubt that President Biden has succeeded.
Recent polls show that a surprisingly high percentage of Americans – around 53% – approve of his professional performance so far, with the highest marks given for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economy. It even has a 63% favorable rating among students registered to vote.
Not bad for a 78-year-old grandfather who was once dismissed as out of touch by Americans on both sides of the political aisle.
However, I am convinced that much of Biden’s success would never have happened without Vice President Kamala Harris by his side. As the child of immigrants, as well as the first woman, first black person, and first South Asian person to hold the position, Harris proved to be the right politician, in the right position, at the right tumultuous time in history. the United States.
Biden appeared to recognize this during his address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, stopping after introducing Harris as “Madam Vice President.”
“No president has ever said these words from this podium,” he said. “No president! And it was about time.
Just because of who she is, the California Democrat has been able to connect with Americans in a personal and powerful way at a time when the nation is torn by racists and rocked by racial injustice. I don’t envy him.
After a jury found former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd, for example, Harris was able to understand and convey the pain of black people when she said, “Black Americans and men black people in particular have been treated throughout our history as less than human.
And after the spa shootout in suburban Atlanta, in which six women of Asian descent were killed, she was able to deliver a speech that got right to the point. “Racism is real in America, and always has been,” she said. “Xenophobia is real in America and always has been. Sexism too.
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It’s no wonder then that a CNN poll found that 53% of Americans approve of the way Harris does his job – the same percentage as Biden. And fewer Americans disapprove of it – 37% – than Biden – 43%.
But this layered identity of hers also made Harris, however unfairly, vulnerable to closer scrutiny and inflated expectations.
I remembered this earlier this month when, for the first time since becoming Vice President, Harris visited her hometown of Oakland. She was short on time, and although soon after the shooting in suburban Atlanta, she decided that one of her few stops would be Red Door Catering, a small black-owned business that almost shut down for good. because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We didn’t have the tech support that other big companies have,” owner Reign Free told Harris at the time, as illustrated. TV news crews.
Meanwhile, a few miles away, Carl Chan sat at his slightly messy desk, nailing down the final details of a fundraising campaign he was launching as chairman of the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce. Across the country, he told me repeatedly that day, businesses owned by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders were suffering.
“If there is a wish I have for our VP Harris,” he said, “I would like her to join us at the press conference or a statement in support of the business campaign. of the AAPI. ”
In the months to come, I imagine Harris will find himself responding to even more inquiries from people in the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community.
A confluence of horrific and high-profile events – the shootings at spas in suburban Atlanta, the vicious beatings by Asian American seniors, and the general rise in anti-Asian hatred over COVID-19 – elevated the needs of Asian Americans to national importance.
There is an urgency, a pressure to get things done, just as there is an urgency to meet the needs of black Americans that accelerated with the murder of Floyd in Minneapolis.
“I really think the VP has an incredible opportunity to really raise and communicate the kind of depth of things that are going on in the community right now,” said Timmy Lu, executive director of Asian Americans and Canadians. Pacific Islands for Civic Empowerment.
In the black community, talking about what she and Biden owe us – the black voters who put them in power – is quite common. This is much more extreme and explicit than Harris’ demands on the part of the Asian American community.
In February, for example, progressive activists from the Black to the Future Action Fund issued a “warrant for the Biden-Harris administration,” which includes everything from guaranteed income to banning the police. in schools.
I suspect the right to make such requests has to do with Harris’ public perception of being more open about her identity as a black woman than as a South Asian. She was raised by her mother, who was Indian, but historically attended Black Howard University and joined the historically black sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, for which she still wears her signature beads.
Lu, a longtime political organizer in the Bay Area, said that started to change during Harris’ brief run for president, when she started talking more about her mother. “I think people are very proud of his work,” he said.
Or, as Chan said, “Sure, to us, she’s one of us.”
For these reasons, several activists and advocates for the United States of Asian descent have told me they are turning to her now.
Hyepin Im, president of Faith and Community Empowerment in Los Angeles, got a glimpse of what’s possible during a Zoom meeting with officials in the Biden administration this month to launch the COVID-19 core network Community Corps for vaccine promotion. She urged Harris to work harder to include Asian Americans in efforts to respond to the pandemic.
Harris, in response, said it was important “that we tell the truth and tackle racial inequalities at all levels.”
But others want more than Harris platitudes, especially about immigration as the daughter of immigrants. Perhaps to complicate matters, Biden has made her the resource person for the crisis on the southern border, as thousands of migrants from Central America head north.
Angela Chan, director of policy and senior lawyer at Asian Americans Advancing Justice, points out that Harris has an uneven immigration record. This includes policies that allowed Southeast Asian refugees who arrived in the United States after fleeing US-funded wars to be deported after serving prison terms.
In fact, the same week as the spa shootings, U.S. immigration and customs officials deported 33 Vietnamese immigrants.
“With the power that she has as Vice President of the United States,” Chan said, “I think she can do a lot for the AAPI community, including tackling these detentions and evictions from the ice that are tearing refugee communities apart. ”
She has hope. As a young lawyer, Chan said, she worked with Harris, then a San Francisco district attorney, in a community task force to tackle anti-Asian violence. At the time, Lu said, there was a high degree of conflict and challenge between black and Asian American communities.
It’s a reminder that what’s happening now, with vicious attacks captured on grainy videos, is nothing new. It should also serve as a reminder that the strategies Harris could have put in place at the time, with more enforcement, were not actually solutions.
“We are looking for her to play a leadership role and we are looking for her to provide a deeper analysis of systemic causes and solutions to address anti-AAPI violence,” Chan said. “What we’re not looking for is for the administration to funnel more money, more power to the police and district attorneys.”
In the meantime, the Senate has passed a bill that would allow, among other things, a more aggressive enforcement of hate crimes, especially those against Asian Americans. This bill is now heading to the House, where it is likely to pass, before landing on Biden’s desk.
The pressure – from black and Asian Americans – is strong.